Food Habits

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					                                                    Food Habits

What is the issue?
There are many new experiences to deal with when arriving in a new country. For some new arrivals, moving to a new
country was voluntary and they have had time and resources to plan their arrival. For refugees, however, moving to a
new country is less about wanting to move and more about having to move. They have few options regarding which
country they will go to, where within that country they will be settled, and when this will happen.
For people from countries where there is a large disparity in living conditions and cultural frameworks when compared
to Australia, this transition can be extremely difficult. In addition to coming to terms with a differing monetary system,
social stratification, housing, schooling and language, there are changes in food habits.
If the negotiation of food habits is not handled well upon arrival, this opens the possibility of new arrivals developing
the full range of lifestyle diseases, such as obesity diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers, in the future.

What are the causes?
A change in food habits can be caused by a number of factors.
Familiar foods may be unavailable and therefore substitutions need to be made. This can have repercussions on
nutritional status. For example, in many African countries camel’s milk is the milk regularly consumed. Camel’s milk is
very high in Vitamin C and the substitutes in Australia, cow’s milk, is not as high in Vitamin C.
Familiar foods may be available but not readily accessible. This can be due to the limited market for the food item in
Australia, and consequently it is only available in specialist stores. The food may also be called by a different name.
Alternatively, new arrivals may not know the English word for the food and therefore be unable to access it for this
When familiar foods are not available, a vacuum is created in which foods of the host country are adopted. Given that
the most heavily advertised foods in Australia are those that have high sugar, fat and salt content, it is not surprising that
these foods often find their way into the diets of new arrivals.
Many refugees have come from situations of severe and significant deprivation. Food rations in refugee camps can in
some areas of the world be inadequate to meet basic nutritional needs. The supply of these rations can also be
interrupted. Given this, on arrival in Australia where food is in relative plentiful supply refugees may eat larger than
normal quantities of food. In addition, parents may be less willing to impose rules regarding foods to be eaten.
Some foods in Australia have significant cultural capital. That is, in the countries of origin they were foods that were
expensive, and therefore could not be consumed on a regular basis. The consumption of these foods illustrated that you
were either wealthy or that you had adopted usually more American (or general Western) traits. Foods such as meat,
chocolate, soft drink, fast food all fall within this category.
Meal times and situations can significantly vary. Children being at school for extended periods of time, families not
being together for the midday meal, eating more than twice a day are all situations which may be unusual.

What can be done?
•   Understand that while a person may be from a particular country their food habits are individual. Just as not all
    Italians eat and enjoy pasta, not all Australians eat and enjoy meat pies. Individual food habits override cultural
    food practices.
•   Improve access to familiar foods by providing information on suppliers of foods outside the Australian norm. This
    may need to be facilitated by providing regular transport to these suppliers.
•   Provide information regarding foods they may be unfamiliar with and how they can be used. These foods include
    the range of fruit and vegetables, breads, cereals and other core food group items available in Australia.
•   Provide information regarding party foods and how they can be incorporated into the diet.
•   Promote water as safe to drink from the tap in Australia and the best drink to consume.
•   Advocate for nutrition resources in your area.
• Keeping Strong and Healthy Flip Chart – in simple English and Dari

May 2004                                                                                                          Food Habits

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